Sunday, April 20, 2008
Pots of Beans
Mmmm...anasazi beans on toast with cheddar for dinner.
I think I finally have the hang of this bean cooking thing. It's a bit embarassing to admit that until this past week, I had yet to make a truly respectable pot of beans. I don't know why. The crock pot method didn't really work--I came home to a stinky house and a crock of nasty, mushy beans. But I gave it another go on the stove top and was very pleased with the results. I have made two very successful batches on the stove this week and I am now sold on home cooked beans.
I consulted a few different sources. Mark Bittman has a few things to say about beans, the most valuable of which is that you don't have to soak them. I rarely attempted beans before because I couldn't commit to a two day ordeal, or forgot to put them in water in the morning, or figured that the beans would be ruined if I didn't soak them long enough. Soaking can shorten the cooking time (although not by much), especially if your beans are old, but it is not a necessary step. Several other cookbook authors confirmed this.
I learned another tasty bit of advice from the Rancho Gordo website. Adding the dried beans to a base of onions sauteed in some kind of fat (oil, butter, or lard) yields a flavorful pot of beans.
A friend at work who is a bean cooking pro told me to keep a steady level of water in the pot. Not so much that the beans are deeply submerged, just enough to keep them loose and barely covered with water. Stir and add more water as they cook.
And of course, don't salt too early or too late. If you salt your pot of beans at the beginning, they are still too hard to absorb any of the salt. If you salt them at the very end, you end up with salty water and salty tasting beans, rather than beany tasting beans. I like to add some salt half way through cooking, then let the beans absorb some more water, taste, and salt again if need be.
So, here's how I have been succesfully cooking beans. I've haven't been cooking very many at a time, maybe a cup, as they plump up quite a bit during cooking. Saute half of a thinly sliced onion in some oil until soft. Add beans, two or three peeled and smashed garlic cloves, and enough water to cover. Cook until beans are tender, beginning to salt halfway through. Towards the end there will be a lot of tasting a stirring and salting.